Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pressing PAUSE, taking time out for a writing retreat

HALLIE EPHRON: Every once in a while I have to pinch myself. It still surprises myself the great places I've ended up going and the great people I've gotten to know because (now) I'm a writer!

So here I am this weekend teaching at an intimate (20 attendees) Writers Digest weekend retreat in gorgeous Scituate Massachusetts.  Working with me is the talented literary agent and author Paula Munier and Writers Digest Books publisher Phil Sexton.

Tough life: we're here in a lovely inn on Scituate Harbour.

There's some of us getting ready to talk about opening pages and synopses. This retreat started on Thursday and it will end midday Sunday, and I'm so impressed by the writers, their writing, and how deeply they are engaged in thinking about each other's work. And that the writers here have been revising (with no one holding a gun to their heads!)

Every time I teach, especially when it's intensive and involves people reworking their manuscripts, I learn something or hear something special. Here are some of the takeaways for me so far for this weekend:

- One writer, talking about how much she realizes she has yet to do on her manuscript and yet feeling energized: It's not perfect but I'm getting over it.

- Epiphany about memoir writing and why it's so hard to make an ordinary life story compelling: In a memoir you do NOT have to relate exactly what happened (it's okay to lie and make things up), but you do must write the emotional truth about what happened.

- Our common frames of reference are not books but TV shows and movies. Total Recall. Rocky. True Detective. The Wizard of Oz. CSI. Scandal. The Good Wife.  These are just a few of the ones that came up when talking about the plots.

   - Surprising to find that the weakest aspect of many manuscripts is setting! Not enough of a sense of the specifics of the places where scenes are set.

- It always impresses me: how deeply felt and personal works of fiction are for the author, and what a huge leap of faith it is to show it to others and open oneself up for criticism.

- Greatest pleasure: hearing that a foursome of writers who'd never before met were going to start a writing group, connecting halfway across the country. That's why you come to workshops, to find writers with whom you trust to share the pains and pleasures of making the writing better.

Ending with a quick pitch for a terrific upcoming writers' conference, great big and beautiful and in Portland Oregon... really strong on fiction writing and also a terrific screenwriting/pitching component. Willamette Writers in August! I'll be teaching 3 workshops ...
 

Have you been to a writing retreat or writing conference? Did or didn't it help you make that big leap forward in your writing?

14 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Your writing retreat sounds like an amazing experience . . . I've never had the opportunity to do something like this, but perhaps someday . . . .

Hallie Ephron said...

When I was first learning to write, I went to the Providence Fine Arts Work Center, took a class and met some wonderful women with whom I shared manuscripts for years. A class or retreat is the best place to find likeminded souls, people whom you like, whose WRITING you like, and whom you would trust to help you make yours better.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you - there is a magic about connecting with other writers in a class or retreat, etc. I am fast friends with fellow writers I met years ago with Lewis Frumkes' class at the Marymount Writing center in New York City. Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Sounds like a wonderful weekend Hallie! you're right, there's nothing like connecting with kindred souls who will travel the writer's path with you...

Ramona said...

I love retreats. I've done them all: days, weekends, week-long intensives, 2 week residencies.

How about a retreat for Jungle Red regulars?

Edith Maxwell said...

As you know, Hallie, your Seascape Retreat weekend, with your fellow teachers Roberta and Sue Hubbard, really did energize me and helped me figure out how to get past the middle of my first mystery, and past the middle of every one since. I just completed the first draft of my SIXTH mystery, with five either published or in production, so it clearly worked. Thank you!

Edith Maxwell said...

Ah, that was the 2009 Seascape...

Rhonda Lane said...


Definitely the 2012 Seascape. My group and the instructors helped me get the beginning on track. Also, watching and listening to readers respond to my pages showed me my setting needed more work to help people new to the story world get their bearings. (Setting is tricksy, as Gollum would say. Looks obvious, but isn't.) On a wider note, I met writers whose work I enjoyed, and we've been stayed in touch ever since.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I learn something EVERY time. SOunds fabulous!

Ellen Kozak said...

I have always been hesitant about even thinking about a writers' retreat. I cannot be out of touch for that long. The only times in the past 45 years I've been able to get away for two weeks, I've had to spend the four to six months beforehand clearing my calendar, and even then, there were some crises that arose.

Kathy Reel said...

I continually hear how wonderful and beneficial writing retreats/conferences/workshops are, and they do sound so indeed. And, Hallie, I was most interested that you took a class when you were "first learning to write." See, that always surprises me, how writers don't just start out with the words flowing in a stream. I'm being a bit facetious in that last comment, but in thinking that it would be amazing to attend a writer's retreat just to learn where to start, I admonish myself by the thought that people attending these events have actual pieces that they are working on. Is there a place for someone who wants to observe the process and see what it's all about? Your mention of the writing class, Hallie, made me think that a class might be the first step to deciding if one has the chops or not. Interesting and informative post, Hallie. Thanks.

Hallie Ephron said...

I took LOTS of classes! One on essay writing. One that I repeated for several semesters on writing (12 students, 1 instructor) at the then Radcliffe Seminars. And I was in a writing group with writers I met at a writing class.

In the early days I kept a yellow sticky on my computer screen with two pieces of advice: KILL THE AUTHOR KILL THE NARRATOR. Which was really about voice and viewpoint. Took me a long time to really get it, so I'm so sympathetic to new fiction writers discovering they can't just let the viewpoint slide around in a scene.

Ellen Kozak said...

Hallie, once upon a time I was on one of Jacqueline Lichtenberg's round robins for new writers. No one had ever told me about POV, but so many people in that group really screwed it up that I GOT it, instantly. You can learn a lot from bad examples!

Micronesia Guide said...

Just an awesome experience. I give my best notes for the educational side of the writing.